x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Protecting children 'is biggest challenge policy-makers face'

But the biggest challenges are in child protection, said Lara Hussein, chief of child protection for Unicef's Arabian Gulf office.

The 2010 Situation Analysis of Children in the UAE report looked at four policy areas: health, education, protection and participation.

But the biggest challenges are in child protection, said Lara Hussein, chief of child protection for Unicef's Arabian Gulf office.

Ms Hussein said there was no national system for cases of child abuse and neglect, and very little data.

As a result, Unicef and the General Women's Union are putting together a household survey that will ask about many children's issues, including child protection.

Ms Hussein identified several steps the country should take to protect children from abuse.

First, the UAE must enact legislation to create a federal child-protection system.

"We need a comprehensive system where the reporting of the case, the referral and then the response, all of them are really linked together, coordinated," she said.

The system would provide protection and guidance for people who report child abuse, Ms Hussein said.

"If I am a teacher in the Ministry of Education and I detect a case of violence, do I know what to do?" she asked.

"Is there a guideline to tell me that … or do I just say maybe the family will hurt me and I don't want to be involved in this."

Ms Hussein said the country must also train and develop people to work with children, such as social workers, and raise awareness about family violence.

"The problem of violence is that sometimes it's accepted in the social norms; that it's normal if the adult beats the child," she said. "So sometimes we need to change these social norms."

Information programmes for parents can play an important role.

"Sometimes they don't know and sometimes they really need more information," Ms Hussein said.

Unicef is working on a "mapping and assessment" study of child-protection services in the Emirates, she said.

"We will know what are the gaps in services, the gaps in legislation and the gaps in policies," Ms Hussein said. "Based on that we will be having recommendations."

vnereim@thenational.ae